Do supplements prevent cancer or heart disease? No evidence

Do supplements prevent cancer or heart disease

One of the undying beliefs of some people is that a handful of expensive supplements prevent cancer and heart disease. Outside of a few cases where there is a diagnosed medical need for supplements, the only result of taking them is very expensive urine.

I’ve written a lot about various supplements and their potential to treat or prevent cancer and heart disease, and the evidence is sorely lacking. There are good ways to prevent cancer, like not smoking and getting the HPV vaccine, but not a single one of them includes swallowing a bunch of vitamins.

Recently, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued draft recommendations on supplements – they were unable to give a single recommendation to any of the supplements that they examined. And as we do here, let’s take a look at what they wrote.

Continue reading “Do supplements prevent cancer or heart disease? No evidence”

Vitamin D treatment for COVID-19 – the evidence is really weak

Two recent papers have been published recently that seem to support that vitamin D does something to prevent or treat COVID-19. Except for a tiny little problem – both of the studies terribly weak and are unconvincing except to those who just want supplements to do something to end this pandemic. Don’t get your hopes too high.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused interest in vitamin D to skyrocket, because there has been a belief that vitamin D improves the immune system against the disease. The sales of vitamin D supplements have increased substantially since pre-pandemic times.

But is there any evidence supporting its use to prevent COVID-19 or improve outcomes for serious cases? Yes, there is evidence, but it’s far from convincing. There are better ways to prevent a COVID-19 infection, and vitamin D is not one of them.

Continue reading “Vitamin D treatment for COVID-19 – the evidence is really weak”

Flu treatment quackery – it is all woo, so get your influenza vaccine

flu treatment

It’s that time of year when we are bombarded by flu treatment quackery from “immune-boosting” miracle supplements to junk that “cures” every single virus known to medical science. During this world of the coronavirus pandemic, it seems to be even louder

This article will attempt to debunk the myths of flu treatments such as “boosting the immune system,” magical supplements, and other nonsense involved with the world of flu treatment pseudoscience.

The one way to prevent the flu, other than hiding in a bubble during the winter (which may be a good thing with the COVID-19 pandemic), is the seasonal flu vaccine. But that’s not a treatment, it prevents the flu.

Continue reading “Flu treatment quackery – it is all woo, so get your influenza vaccine”

Vitamin D supplements – evidence for clinical effectiveness and safety

Vitamin D supplements

The claims about the usefulness of vitamin D supplements are all over the internet. And they seem trendy, as most pseudoscientific claims are these days.

The purpose of this article is to review some of the old and new information about vitamin D supplements. It’s about scientific articles that either support or refute a claim, that’s it. It’s not about what we believe or we do not believe, it’s about evidence.

I don’t think vitamin D is worthless. It is an important micronutrient for human health, and if there’s a chronic deficiency, supplementation may be medically necessary.

On the other hand, proponents of megadoses of vitamins, called megavitamin therapy or orthomolecular medicine (pseudoscientific terms to sound like they are based on real science), seems to work on the unscientific belief that if a little helps, a whole boatload will help a lot more. Most of these ideas have been debunked and are considered quackery and fads.

I wanted to take a look at the science of vitamin D supplements while examining its actual benefits to health compared to the possible dangers of excess supplementation.

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Flu treatments and supplements – do they work? No, get the vaccine

flu treatment

As we enter the 2019-20 flu season, some choose to receive the seasonal flu vaccine. Of course, some choose to rely upon unproven flu treatments, because they buy into the easily-debunked myths of the anti-vaccine world

Many of the good people who read this blog understand that the flu is a very dangerous disease. In the USA, the CDC estimates that the flu season every year results in 12 to 56 thousand deaths and 140 to 710 thousand hospitalizations. It is not a trivial disease that can be easily ignored. Let me be frank – your best, and really, the only choice to prevent the flu is getting the seasonal flu vaccine. And, it is the only method to boost your or your children’s immune system against the flu.

I’ve written previously about various supplements and treatments for the common cold, and they mostly don’t work. Or the evidence is so weak that it’s literally a waste of money to use them. Or they’re just useless.

These ineffective treatments exist for one reason – money. Cold and flu treatments are a significant part of the estimated global US$278 billion supplement and nutraceutical industry. And the industry is largely unregulated, so they can make unsupported claims about things like flu treatments, and people buy them based on the pseudoscience and false claims.

Although there’s some overlap between the common cold and flu treatments, there are a large number of flu treatments that get sold over the counter, although one class of drugs are sold by prescription. Are any of them effective? Let’s find out. Continue reading “Flu treatments and supplements – do they work? No, get the vaccine”

Weight loss scams – raspberry ketones and green coffee beans

Next up, weight-loss scams (see Note 1) – you know all about them. Take one supplement and suddenly you lose kilograms of weight while eating burgers and fries while watching TV. They often appear in email spam, the Dr. Oz show, or a random Google search.

These weight loss scams, especially those who claim it’s “easy”, are an obsession with Americans (though it’s not unique to this country), especially since the USA is experiencing an obesity epidemic. 

Americans (maybe everyone else) are always seeking easy, simple, but effective ways to lose weight that don’t require them to change any behavior at all. In other words, let us eat our Big Macs and never exercise while taking a miracle pill and maintain a perfect Body Mass Index. If that existed, whoever sold it would be richer than Bill Gates

Two pseudoscientific weight-loss scams have been hitting the public consciousness – raspberry ketones and green coffee beans. Dr. Oz, who despite a solid education in science-based medicine has been promoting everything from homeopathy to Joe Mercola‘s various lunatic cures, has been pushing both of these weight loss scams to his audience in the past. 

But it’s not just him, you can find ads all over the internet for them. I won’t link to them, because why should I send those quacks any clicks?

However, we’re here to answer the most important question – are these weight loss scams really scams? Is there anything there? 

Continue reading “Weight loss scams – raspberry ketones and green coffee beans”

Contaminated supplements – spiked with potentially dangerous ingredients

contaminated supplements

The supplement industry is huge and unregulated. Americans spend more than $30 billion annually on them, yet contaminated supplements are part of the industry’s method to make their mostly useless products appear to have some clinical effect.

There is growing evidence that these contaminated supplements contain unlabeled ingredients that are found in regulated pharmaceuticals – all without telling the consumer about them. Or testing them. Or listing warnings for their use.

As I’ve written many times, supplements are basically worthless, unless you have specific chronic medical conditions or suffer from chronic malnutrition that prevents you from receiving enough micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals. In addition, those on highly restrictive diets, like vegans or those who have had weight-loss surgery, may require supplementation, although both could be considered “chronic medical conditions.”

For example, in modern prenatal care, the pregnant mother is urged to take folic acid supplements to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the developing fetus. But after the pregnancy is over, folic acid is no longer needed – in fact, continued use of folic acid may actually increase the risk of some forms of cancer, in individuals who have no medical need for the supplement.

Because a lot of people favor confirmation bias as their go-to argument, I constantly hear, “hey Skeptical Raptor, vitamin C prevents scurvy, ergo all supplements are the greatest thing we can consume.” Scurvy is fairly rare these days in developed countries, but it can happen especially to smokers since cigarette smoke inhibits uptake of vitamin C (and another reason not to smoke).

So unless your diet only includes steak, ice cream, and junk food, an average American or European will get more than adequate amounts of vitamin C from their diet. Anyone deficient in vitamin C could be considered to be malnourished, and, of course, they will benefit from a vitamin C supplement. But vitamin C does not prevent colds, flu, or cancer. It is not a miracle vitamin, despite the oft-debunked claims of the pseudoscience-based supplement proponents.

Despite the utter lack of or weak evidence of the usefulness of supplements, unsurprisingly, over half of all Americans take dietary supplements. I guess chronic malnutrition and medical conditions afflict over half of Americans. The facts are that human needs for nutrients, like vitamins, are more than adequately met by a broad, healthy diet that includes a lot of fruits and vegetables.

But there’s more bad news, and it’s more than just overpriced, mostly useless products. It’s that contaminated supplements are widespread in this industry.  Continue reading “Contaminated supplements – spiked with potentially dangerous ingredients”

Supplements for cardiovascular diseases – more evidence that they don’t work

supplements for cardiovascular diseases

I have been skeptical of supplements for a long time – not because I have some predisposition against them. My skepticism results from the relative lack of any robust evidence that supplements have any positive effect on human health other than in unique situations of chronic diseases or malnutrition. In fact, most of the high-quality evidence about supplements show that it does not work. And a recently published review shows that using supplements for cardiovascular diseases are expensive and useless.

Since many readers fail to read what I wrote above, let me repeat myself for clarity. Supplements are not completely useless – of course, they are important for those who have chronic diseases or conditions may require supplements of some or many micronutrients. Someone who has had bariatric surgery or other types of serious gastrointestinal surgery may not be able to consume enough vitamins and minerals from food, and they will require multivitamins.

Also, some individuals may be malnourished, which doesn’t mean just not eating enough, but not eating some foods that have specific nutrients. For example, avoiding certain foods that contain vitamin C could put you at risk for a disease called scurvy, which can be deadly. There are several other diseases that result from missing key nutrients. However, in the modern developed world, these diseases are extremely rare because of the varied diet we have – and the availability of supplements to treat those diseases.

However, several points have got to be made. Just because vitamin C can treat scurvy doesn’t mean that more vitamin C makes your immune system suddenly powerful enough to destroy the common cold or flu or cure cancer. Vitamin D, although there are many cases of deficiency in many countries, is not a miracle supplement. It cannot cure or prevent cancer. It does not impart superpower abilities to your immune system.

The whole supplement industry has an overreliance on logical fallacies (like appeal to popular belief or appeal antiquity) or anecdotes (which aren’t data) to convince customers to buy their nonsense. They do this because they are not required to undergo gold-standard clinical trials to convince the FDA to approve their claims. Real pharmaceuticals, on the other hand, take 10-20 years of research and clinical trials before they are approved for use.

Big Supplement (yeah, it’s a huge industry, over US$100 billion annually, worldwide) also pushes the trope that if a little helps, a lot is better. This is not good science. The millions of years of human evolution (following up a billion years of immune system evolution) has led to a rather powerful immune system that is exceedingly complex and has always been able to do its job without the addition of supplements (unless early Homo sapiens had access to a GNC someplace).

But let’s take a look at supplements for cardiovascular diseases (stroke, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular conditions) – a new review shows us, once again, that there’s nothing there. Continue reading “Supplements for cardiovascular diseases – more evidence that they don’t work”

Omega-3 supplements have little effect on cardiovascular disease and mortality

omega-3 supplements

I have been skeptical of supplements for a long period of time. Supplements are generally of low quality, they don’t prevent or cure cancer, they don’t prevent colds, they can’t boost the immune system, and they don’t prevent heart disease. Now there is a powerful review of omega-3 supplements that shows that it has little effect on cardiovascular disease.

Unless one has a chronic disease or is chronically malnourished, there are precious few instances where supplements are necessary. A couple of cases where supplements may be critical include prenatal folic acid supplements to prevent neurological defects in the developing fetus, vitamin C to prevent scurvy, and vitamin D supplements for individuals who do not produce enough endogenous vitamin D. In each of these cases, however, supplements are necessary to counteract a micronutrient deficiency that results from a chronic deficiency in the diet.

The benefits of omega-3 supplements have always been intriguing to me because it is a supplement that I thought might be useful for improving cardiovascular health. But as I reviewed before, the evidence seemed awfully weak. With this new study, there may be no evidence whatsoever supporting the use of omega-3 supplements, at least for cardiovascular disease. Continue reading “Omega-3 supplements have little effect on cardiovascular disease and mortality”

Dietary supplements make costly urine – not helpful for CVD

dietary supplements

I have never been a fan of dietary supplements pushed by Big Supplement, the less regulated, less evidence-based, more pseudoscientific mirror image of Big Pharma. Recently, a meta-review published in a respected journal examined whether there were any causal links between various dietary supplements and cardiovascular disease (CVD). They only found one, folic acid, that might have an effect on CVD, but, in that case, causality might not be so clear.

Just to be perfectly clear, no one on the side of real science-based medicine would dismiss using dietary supplements to treat chronic medical conditions. Many people have had surgeries, illnesses, and other medical conditions where certain supplements are necessary for the patient to survive. But these are highly specific requirements, not general quack claims that taking supplements will somehow miraculously treat colds and flues, prevent cancer, or some other nonsense.

Essentially, if you’re taking dietary supplements for no medical reason other than you believe it makes you healthier, let’s stick to facts – all that you are doing is having your kidneys create some very costly urine. Human physiology, based on a couple of billion years of evolution, automatically regulates its needs for micronutrients – excess amounts do not stick around to make you healthier, it just becomes a component of your pee.

It’s time to take a look at this article about dietary supplements and cardiovascular disease. Maybe I’ll convince you to save some money each month, and spend it on something like investing in a better diet. Continue reading “Dietary supplements make costly urine – not helpful for CVD”